5 Tips on email etiquette

Image by Michael Giuffrida about collaborationBusiness email is a great tool.  It has enabled us to communicate very quickly to people all over the world without even opening our mouths!  However, there is a time and place for email.  Here are some simple etiquette tips you can follow to make sure that your email recipients understand what you are saying, and only what you are saying.

  1. First and foremost, unless you are communicating a simple request or piece of information, email should be used as a followup tool, not an initial communication tool.  Talk with the person you are trying to communicate with, then followup the facts with email so that there is documentation of what was said or agreed upon.
  2. People can not hear tone in an email, and in a business email and emoticon doesn’t do the trick.  Be careful that if something can be read multiple ways, someone doesn’t “hear” the wrong tone in your message.  Since this is important, refer back to tip #1.
  3. Except for the purpose of followup, email should be short.  The longer the email, the less chance there is that it will be read and/or understood.  If you get the reputation for sending log drawn out emails, people will dread getting them, wait to open them until they “have time”, and barely read them even when they do open them.  Don’t be “that person”.
  4. Once its emailed, consider it written in stone.  There is no “taking it back”.  I tell people to not say anything in an email that they wouldn’t want to explain later.  While email can be “forged”, it will be clear that it came from you and should reflect how you want people to see you.
  5. Lastly, don’t EVER send an email when you are emotional about a situation. If you feel you need to vent to your computer by writing a scathing email when you are upset about something, go ahead. But don’t put the senders email address in at the beginning and save it as a draft to re-read for later.  Once you have cooled off, take another look, and review what you have written.  Maybe there is a more constructive way to get your point across.

Michael Giuffrida from Southington CT has been operating businesses since 1997.  He is an experienced entrepreneur in business management, profitable growth, business valuation, mergers and acquisitions, and information technology managed services.

14 thoughts on “5 Tips on email etiquette

  • This is very helpful. I actually have an issue where my emails are at times read differently than what I really wanted to come across saying. I will take advantage of this information by implementing these steps into my emailing processes.
    Thank you Mike G.

  • I’ve used tip #5 quite successfully before – writing down what I wanted to say when something happened, then reviewing it later. After a few level headed edits the email was able to resolve a problem rather than start another one. I’d be interested in a follow up post about the dos and don’ts of email use within a company. Things like memos, how/when/if to use tl;dr, and the dreaded group email chain.

  • Great tips, Mike!

    I’ve definitely been guilty of #5. Its tough sometimes to “walk away” when you’re stressed or angry about an issue, but refer back to #4 – you can’t take back an angry email. You can certainly send a “sorry for that last email”, but that doesn’t go very far.

    For #3, as a technical person who often sends technical emails one thing I’ve tried (but to be honest I’ve never heard was good or bad) is to put the one or two sentence summary at the top of the email, then put a series of dashes or a line and then have the “extended detail for those that are interested” below that.

    Can I add a #6? Figure out who the real audience of the email is – and send to that group. All of our inboxes are too big nowadays, and one reason for it is a need to cc everyone in a company. If you want your manager or colleague to know you’re handling an issue, put them on bcc on the email so they know you’re handling it, but that way they don’t get stuck on the whole chain where all you wanted them to know was that you were handling it.

  • The fact that the tone of the email can’t be heard has been an issue when I managed a global team in the past. When you have employees communicating across different cultures then their different styles can come across with very different tones than intended.

  • Great points, as I work for a decentralized company I find the point about tone so important. Leadership especially needs to understand how an email might be taken by the reader. It could lead to moral issues if the email comes across as harsh.

  • Michael makes some excellent points in this article about email etiquette. I am sometimes surprised when I go back and read one of my emails. Without any context the tone can be interpreted several ways. Thank you for insights.

  • Thank you for these great reminders. Many organizations are spread across states or countries and therefore working in different time zones. It is sometimes easy to go down the road of using email as the only form of communication which is not ideal or effective in many cases.

  • This is great! Sometimes it can be difficult to read my own message objectively, but these tips can help keep me on track. #5 is my favorite. Sometimes I write a draft just to the thoughts out of my head. Once I’ve done that, it’s easier to let it go. But, like you suggested, I don’t enter the person’s email address and I don’t send it! Good tips, Mike. Thanks!

  • Great tips we probably all know but need to be reminded of periodically. I find myself sending emails hastily and then looking back through the thread upon a reply and realize I’ve missed words and since it is written in stone I can’t correct it. Another good reason to keep emails short. Less is more. Thank you

  • #5 is a great tip,I’ve done this on several occasions and when I read the draft later decided not to send the email, but it felt good to vent by doing the draft writing. Great reminders for anyone writing email. Thank you.

  • This is great advice that I will pass along to my college students. Even though my business is Healthcare, email is frequently used as a form of communication and there is a lot of room for improvement with etiquette.

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